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November 18, 2003


The Kid

The “rich” Europeans are broke, France and Germany can’t meet the Euro budget deficit targets for a second (or is it third) year. Why would they invest in military forces and logistics (transport, supply, materiel) when they have no desire to fight, even on their own continent? At least Turkey has a military that’s worth something even if its political leaders are reluctant to continue the country’s proud tradition of NATO support.

Europe’s economic recovery now appears to hinge on the US recovery. Pretty darn sad for a group that half wants to go its own way.

The Europeans are worse than incompetent – they are impotent.

My take on Bush’s aversion to nation building is that he was disturbed by the notion of deploying US forces for indeterminate periods of baby-sitting duty when the US had no real way to effect the local dynamics. He rightly viewed the Balkans as a mess unlikely to heal for decades.

His instinct in Afghanistan was probably to be a little more of a control freak, but he and his moved on to plan for Iraq. Letting the UN or even NATO take control of Iraq is a bad idea for a whole bunch of reasons, the biggest one being that the Iraqis need to be forced to develop their own brand of politics and take responsibility for accommodating ethnic and religious differences.

One thing that the UN and NGOs bring with them is a whole bunch of well-paid technocrats and do-gooders who have an interest in perpetuating their involvement in a country until a new hotspot appears where they can move on to do the same. They tend to have an elitist approach modeled on Old European notions of centralized control of the economy, services, etc. They end up fostering an attitude among the indigenous population that the government is responsible for and must be intimately involved with all aspects of the nation’s welfare; they seem to leave behind a shambles. I can’t think of a successful UN operation off the top of my head, but there must be some. On the plus side they do ensure the growth of high-class watering holes and eateries.

The US is deploying civil servants and contractors on a finite term and with specific objectives. From today’s Wall Street Journal it appears that bureaucratic sclerosis remains an issue, but at least US authorities have a chance to enforce discipline and accountability.


"Internationalizing" is empty sloganeering bunk, at least when it comes to the heavy-lifting in Iraq. Mostly it's an appeal to understandable desires to get a free ride -- well sorry, that seat's already taken (Europe, Japan, most of the world). In the present period it's the geopolitical equivalent of "if you want something done right, do it yourself."

The bottom line on NATO in Afghanistan is that many in Europe have good intentions, but limited resources or political will to offer. I think even the German ground force heading to Afghanistan will go to Konduz -- not exactly the priority problem area at the moment .... but far safer. Illustrative.

Given our limited strategic aim in Afghanistan -- that it not be a base for terrorism -- even the muddled and unimpressive NATO stabilization effort may prove adequate.

Our strategic objective in both Afghanistan and Iraq is negative: that they not serve as landlords or quartermasters to global terrorists. Nation-building is an adjunct, but fairly rudimentary advances will suffice.
Democracy and order are desirable but not requisite for securing our vital interests.

Self-interest and values impel us to try and improve these places, and we will to some degree, but some sober realism is in order (whatever the mix of US, NATO, or UN labels as time goes on). Dan Pipes has summed up the pragmatic case on Iraq very nicely:

"In brief, Iraqi determination is much greater than that of the occupiers, severely limiting what the latter can accomplish."


Funny, I thought "neocons" were supposed to be crusading reformers with quixotic agendas. Historically literate pragmatism never figured in those NYT profiles ..... funny, that.


"lawless hinterlands of the country, where Taliban militia are back on the offensive and warlords are thriving on a resurgent opium drug trade."
I hate to bring this up, but isn't the point here that we should have stayed in Afghanistan til things were safe, rather than try to babysit two insane Middle Eastern countries? This article reflects at least as badly on Bush as it does on NATO.

The Kid

Let the UN and NATO show their good intentions in Afghanistan. The country will need loads of time to fix itself. Unlike Iraq, it has no natural resources to provide any kind of cash for development, nor is its expatriate community as large, relatively speaking, as Iraq’s. It will take a lot of time and resources to become a success, and that will teach the European do-gooders a lesson.

In the meantime it provides the US with a base for eventual action against the baddies in Pakistan and the nuclear arsenal that could go up for grabs.

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